Members of "Youth Adventures," a program by the New Hampshire Association for the Blind, enjoy an outing at Gunstock Mountain Resort. (Courtesy photo)
Gunstock outing christens ‘Youth Adventures’ series for visually impaired
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — Young people with visual impairments could feel the cold, crisp air and hear the rustling of nature as members of "Youth Adventures" strapped on snowshoes and ventured down the Nordic trails at Gunstock Mountain Resort last weekend.
This outing, organized by the New Hampshire Association for the Blind, christened an effort to welcome young people who are blind and visually impaired and give them an expanded list of fitness activities that they can enjoy.
"These opportunities broaden the perspective for kids," giving them a bonding experience and helping to build their self confidence, said Stephanie Hurd, community relations coordinator for the association.
Hurd, who is blind, said the new "Youth Adventures" program is open to any youth in grades four through 12 with any kind of vision loss.
"It's peer support, as youth with vision loss get an opportunity to connect with one another. It's an adaptive way to exercise, it builds confidence for youth, and it's just a whole lot of fun," Hurd explained.
The Gunstock outing was the first time for many of the young people to explore and learn how to snowshoe.
The group largely dispensed with white canes or other aids, following along by sound and staying in clusters. "You have to give a little more space," Hurd said, noting one of the lessons learned, as the participants had to judge the distance between each other while on snowshoes.
Many parts of the outing were typical of a winter excursion — snowball fights, tasting the snow, listening to the creaking of trees.
Gunnar Stohlberg, ski instructor, pointed out a brook that ran through the area, and the group grew quiet and listened, Hurd recalled.
"They had a good time. I think it was a successful kickoff," she said.
Armed with a grant, the association plans additional monthly trips.
The next one is in March, at Carriage Barn Equine Therapy in Kensington, when the participants will enjoy horseback riding at an indoor arena. In April, the group plans to visit Concord for indoor rock climbing at Evo Rock Climbing. In May, the New Hampshire Forest Society will take the young people on a guided hike in Concord.
"We didn't have to create the wheel, we just had to find places that would be willing to work with the wheel," Hurd said.
A theme of the series is "living and thriving with vision loss."
Participants learn that they don't need to feel limited, Hurd said. The outings shatter stereotypes about the visually impaired, so there's an educational component.
"It's a great thing for the public to know about, too, because blind people don't just sit in the corner and knit, rock in a rocking chair," Hurd said.
At Gunstock, one 11-year-old who typically grew tired from physical exertion found a boost of energy on the Nordic trail.
"It was nice to see kids flourish and challenge themselves," Hurd said.
Two boys became friends, sharing information so they can write Braille back and forth, Hurd noted.
The outing instilled some children with confidence, breaking the ice, so to speak.
"Sometimes it's not always easy to be included in a gym class or picking up a game if you have trouble seeing," Hurd explained.
Spots are open in upcoming excursions. The outings are for young people with visual impairments, who are between grades four and 12.
The association also welcomes anyone 18 and older who would like to help out.
"We are always looking for volunteers who would like to get involved with us," Hurd said, noting that the Lakes Region is an area where volunteer help is especially needed.
For more information, visit the New Hampshire Association for the Blind at www.sightcenter.org.
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